News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate change; the middle ground is not enough

Climate change; the middle ground is not enough

David Shearman

Telling words were uttered on the ABC TV 7.30 Report, 11 December. Asked about a forthcoming government statement on greenhouse gas emissions Mr Rudd said,

“And I’m sure when this is delivered, early next week, we’ll get attacked from the left, from the right, we’ll get attacked by various radical green groups saying that we haven’t gone far enough because we haven’t closed down the coal industry by next Thursday.”

O’Brien: I think that’s a little unkind, but …

 Mr. Rudd modified by saying

“Well, I think it’s – no, Kerry, this is absolutely true. We’ll be attacked from the far right and by various business groups, I suppose, and certainly the Liberal Party, for doing anything at all. And we’ll be attacked by extreme green groups for not taking the most radical course of action.”

This exchange told us that fundamentally it was business as usual. What is business as usual and what is the alternative?

Business as usual is the story of the developing ecological crisis in the world. Since the industrial revolution each step in ‘progress and development’ has involved a confrontation between exploiters and protectors over natural resources. Government and to a lesser extent the community has been the referee.

This process has to lead to progressive erosion of the planetary systems which support human and other lives. Let us suppose that a government needs to look favourably on logging requests to provide jobs and economic activity. A section of the community recommends protection for sustainability reasons. In the traditions of liberal democracy a ‘compromise’ is reached, some of the forest is lost. But the compromise is not based on scientific fact, the rational means of thinking in modern times, it is based on expediency. Over time the process is repeated again and again until the resource is depleted or lost. For forest, substitute arable land, fresh water, coastal fisheries, the end point is the same. Those opposing these processes have become known as environmentalists; they have ‘green’ views; they can be categorised in the mind of the referee as those opposing progress. If they speak the scientific truth they are ‘radical’. And naturally their main detractors are those who will benefit most from what is called progress.

When we bring climate change into this story, the same middle ground approach is applied whereas the necessary solution is ‘radical’. On present scientific evidence the middle ground would be 20 per cent, so in fact the government’s decision falls short of the intended middle ground.

What then is the alternative?

A way forward is to recognise that for the purpose political thinking climate change is much more than an environmental issue. We have based the foundation of our society on science (with the exception of economic practice) and science now tells us that climate change is an issue of human health and survival and one of impending population chaos and disorder. In the developed countries the Pentagon and several advisory think-tanks have recognised this but it has not lead to any advance in the thinking of our representatives.

Climate change, then, is a matter of national security. The middle ground is not enough, so let us stop talking ‘green’and reserve the word for Green Parties. History tells us that the present financial crisis will be overcome such is the human focus on money. Science now tells us that the climate change crisis, a far greater threat, will not be overcome unless we act quickly and decisively and indeed it may become irreversible. It is time for our representatives to adjust their thinking be bold, bipartisan, offer leadership and establish partnership with the community rather than the polluters, to modify our way of life and work for our children.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue it embraces every aspect of human existence. The middle ground is failure

This commentary reflects my own thoughts and not necessarity those of DEA